LPNs and MAs are very similar, but LPNs are trained under the nursing theory of care, and are more medically trained, while MAs are often more medical clinic / medical office trained and sometimes perform less direct roles in patient care. Both can perform limited assessments on patients like taking vital signs, collecting health history, etc. LPNs have a wider skill range including the kinds of medications they may administer (specifically, IV medications).
I wouldn't recommend being an MA, personally, because your education is not transferable to other programs such as nursing later on, and because many job markets are saturated with MAs being cranked out by for-profit schools that are taking advantage of people and their wallets. LPNs have more job opportunities available to them. They are licensed by their state (not just "certified"), and as I hinted at before it's transferable to an RN program later on.
You could go directly into an Assoc. Degree in Nursing RN program, or you could do an LPN program first, then do an LPN to RN bridge, where the LPN students usually join the students of the reg. program during the second year of the program. There are pre-requisites you need to take for your RN in biology, chemistry, anatomy & physiology, and sometimes microbiology, nutrition, etc. which must be completed prior to starting an RN program, so that can make a typical two-year degree turn into 3 years of courses.
The actual difference between LPN and RN duties are that RNs are trained in actual nursing process - ADPIE - assessment, diagnosis (nursing diagnosis, not medical diagnosis), plan, interventions, and evaluation. LPNs can contribute to some parts of this process but not all. RNs can perform much more thorough assessments, only RNs perform nursing diagnosis, which is the diagnosis of a patient's response to a condition rather than the condition itself, and a care plan is created with measurable outcomes designed to improve the patient's level of functioning. All the tasky skills we do as LPNs or RNs are designed to meet those goals, these are the interventions, like taking vital signs, administering medications, providing patient education, connecting patients with discharge resources, etc. RNs are more education-minded as a whole their level of education themselves makes them better prepared to provide their patients with health information.
As a whole, RNs can perform more complex care for a patient, managing complex medical monitoring equipment, performing more complex procedures, can delegate more tasks to the assistive personnel, etc. They are coordinators and supervisors of care. It's their job to tell the LPNs and nursing assistants or MAs what to do, and yes, LPNs and NAs will end up doing more of the "dirty" work because that is what their job description entails, they are not qualified to perform the RN tasks, if they were there would be no need to have different license levels. If the RNs did everything themselves, it would be very expensive care, and LPNs would be out of a job.
As for salary, MAs and LPNs can make similar salaries in some settings, but in all LPNs have better salary prospects overall. It might range anywhere from $14-$20 per hour, but I don't know too many LPNs that make more than that. Depends on the job market and their level of experience.
RNs can make a starting salary of $20-$35 per hour. Higher end for working in hospitals as opposed to clinics or nursing homes or home care which usually pay several dollars per hour less. And that's just if you're doing regular patient care. If you advance your degree and earn a BSN or an MSN or higher you could make $70k, $100k, or even more per year.
Answered By: Take A Test! - 6/30/2009